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Bosina Community Depends on SabaH

By Rita Csapo-Sweet

            In a neatly kept office at 5003 Gravois, just west of the Bevo Mill restaurant, a family has been working hard to publish a national newspaper to help Bosnian immigrants deal with life in their new country and keep them up on events in their war-torn homeland.

            It’s nothing new for immigrant groups to have their own newspaper to help them cope. As St. Louis grew into a major city over the past 200 years there were many ethnic newspapers, especially those that served the flood of German transplants.

            For the past 12 years the weekly Bosnian-language newspaper called SabaH – which means sunrise in Bosnain – has struggled to keep publishing, thanks to its founder, Sukrija Dzidzovic, his wife Mirsada, their daughter Ertana, a network of writers, advertisers and readers around the world. It calls itself a version of the New York Times for the Bosnian community.

            St. Louis has had Bosnian-Americans for more than 100 years, but today they number about 50,000, more than any other U.S. city, though Chicago has about 45,000, Dzidzovic said. That it’s a central location is one reason he came to St. Louis from New York in 2006 to continue publishing SabaH.

            The paper, in tabloid format, runs 56 pages with bold headlines and many photos.

            A recent issue recalled the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica of about 8,000 Bosnians when the United Nations failed to protect them from the Serbs. About 250,000 Bosnians died during the war. “Forgive, but never forget,” said Dzidzovic.

            Articles in another issue included President Obama’s image in the world, U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan’s trip to Bosnia, updates on prosecutions of war criminals, passport and immigration information, health care reform, columns on Bosnian history and politics, and entertainment and sports. The paper costs $2.

            Dzidzovic, 52, takes a long view of his native country’s history and says it is still working toward freedom and democracy. He hopes SabaH helps “to keep Bosnia from splitting apart…I’m writing it for future generations.” Mirsada, his wife, says: It’s the first time we are able to write our own history.”

            The couple took a road tour of the U.S. last year, visiting many Bosnian communities as a way of staying in touch with readers and Bosnian leaders and getting a broader view of the country.

            (An interview with Sukrija Dzidzovic, publisher of SabaH)

Q: Please describe SabaH and your work.

A:  SabaH is a weekly Bosnian-American newspaper that is published in St. Louis and distributed nationally. Our circulation is about 20,000. More than 350,000 Bosnian refugees were settled by the U.S. government in this country, including 50,000 in St. Louis, after the war in Bosnia (1992-1995). On 1995, I came to New York with my wife and children. I was a journalist but spoke no English. I discovered that many of my fellow refugees were desperate for information about what was going on in Bosnia but could find nothing available in the Bosnia language. News was not that easy to get. In 1997 I published the first issue of SabaH.

Q: Is it read inBosnia?

A: The Internet is now very popular with Bosnians and it gives them the opportunity to read SabaH and be informed about what is going on in the Bosnian communities of the United States. And we inform Bosnian-Americans about what is going on in the country they left behind. SabaH works with all the Bosnian-American social, cultural, political and religious groups.

Q: What kind of financial investment did you need to start the newspaper?

A: When I started the newspaper in New York, I had only $50 in my pocket. I went to the Best Buy store and (on credit) they gave me a computer, scanner and printer, and I started making the first issue. A printing shop charged me $500 for the first thousand copies. At that time I was employed in a New York photo lab making $360 a week. I also worked as a painter to make extra money needed to keep the paper running. Every year we sold more newspapers, and increasingly I was able to cover expenses. For the first seven years we did not make any profit, but the number of readers was steadily growing. All our income comes from advertising and from newspapers that we sell. However, 60 percent of our income goes for shipping the newspaper within the U.S. and that is a major problem for us.

Q: Describe your family’s involvement in publishing the paper.

A: From the very beginning my family supported me and this project completely. My wife Mirsada (technical editor) and my daughter Ertana (advertising executive) never asked for any pay during those seven years when the business did not make any money. They worked at their full-time jobs during the day. At night, instead of watching TV or going out to dinner, we worked on our newspaper. Very often we worked on the paper until 2 or 3:00 in the morning and then had to get up and go to our regular jobs. (A younger daughter, Arijana, attends college.)

Q: Who writes the articles?

A: We have four correspondents from Bosnia and Herzegovina and 12 in the American-Bosnies communities. I don’t have to select stories. The stories select me and my correspondents. Every week, something important happens in our community nationwide – sometimes good things, sometimes bad. We have plenty to write about.

            With the beginning of the war a lot of people in Bosnia were forced to flee our country. My decision was to stay and defend my people – not with a gun or other weapon, but with a camera and a pen. The experience of living in Sarajevo under siege was great training to be a good journalist.

Q: Has the financial crisis in the U.S. affected SabaH?

A: When I was a teenager, Yugoslavia was in constant financial crisis. During the war in Bosnia I survived crisis after crisis. Finally I came to the U.S. hoping that maybe all these crises will be behind me. But I was wrong. The 9/11 terrorist attack in New York made me realize that war and crises will remain a part of my life. Does it affect my newspaper? Yes. Business owners who have been paying to advertise in SabaH are now in crisis. The first thing they cut back on when trying to survive is advertising. I think they are wrong but I am not able to change their minds.

Q: How has the war affected you and your work as a journalist?

A: I think that one of the ways to become a good person, and a good journalist, is to struggle. In Sarajevo during the siege we had almost no food and were without electricity, gas and telephone service. We were constantly under sniper fire and heavy artillery shelling. I was praying to God to let me survive so I could help my family and others. When people are dying all around you, you learn to respect and love everything. I started to notice and respect every tree around me, every glass of water, every cloud and – most important – every person. That feeling had a profound influence on my work as a journalist. All my articles are presented from a positive point of view. I am always saying to others, “Even a dead dog can have beautiful, white teeth.” If you look at everything from that perspective, you make others and yourself happy.

            (Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 7/2009).

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